A Set Of ‘Kung Fu’ Skills For Achieving Sustainable Success.

by Patrick Liew on September 9, 2013

On Sunday, 30 September 2013, my family took me on a trip down memory lane.

For awhile, I have been telling them of an itching in my heart to go to Taiwan. That country brings back bittersweet memories and invokes a nostalgic feeling like no other places in the world.

I spent one of the toughest periods of my life there and to be specific, up in some of the tallest mountains in the south. It was a trying period of my life but at the the same time, an enriching one.

In fact, it was during that trip that I discovered one of the most important qualities to achieve sustainable success.

Like many Grandmasters of martial arts in movies, I started to learn this set of ‘Kung Fu’ skills up in the mountains. You have to read to the end to learn about this critical gem in life.

The story that I’m about to tell you began with an order…

“Soldiers, pack up all your things in the ‘Alibaba’ bag and fall in the parade square. We are leaving for the overseas operation tonight.”

That order still gives me an adrenalin rush as the image of me changing into my army uniform comes to mind. I can still see myself packing essential belongings into the army duffle bag and rushing out of the bunk.

The D-Day has finally arrived.

I was mentally and physically prepared but could I overcome the ordeal that was ahead of me? That was the question that was going through not just my mind but also the minds of more than 200 senior cadets of the Officer Cadets School (OCS) in 1979.

As part of the course, we had to go to Taiwan for what would be like the grand finale of our military training. We would be tested on how we apply the major art and science of military warfare, the results of which will determine whether we would be commissioned as officers of the Singapore Armed Forces.

In the weeks leading to the secret mission, we were put through some of the most gruelling programmes that a young person could ever go through. We had to go through a punishing pace of training that went from early in the morning to late in the night for many nights.

We were made to carry out feats that we had never thought we could accomplish. Sadly, for many of us, we would never push ourselves to achieve similar feats again.

Through that baptism of fire, many of us discovered that we had a reservoir of potential that were largely untapped. We had an unimaginable source of talents, energy, and other resources.

If we had better capitalised on them, we could have produced much better performance and results on the journey of life.

I also realised that I could learn anything that I wanted to learn. I could master the skills needed to succeed in life.

Still, there were fears, uncertainties, and doubts. They kept us on our toes.

The first challenge hit us right from the moment we stepped into our Taiwanese army barrack. Prior to that, we had thought that our army base back home was intimidating but what we saw there was emotionally-dampening and depressing.

It was made up of a few simple and dilapidated buildings. Our bed was just a long stretch of wooden plank with mattresses that were barely thick enough for comfort.

There was nothing pleasing to the eyes to lift up any human, let alone a weary spirit.

The toilets were – to put it mildly – repelling. We had to squat along a long drain to do our daily ‘business.’

We were divided by planks of wood that could hardly cover us from public sight. I’m sure some of the soldiers would prefer to hold themselves back if they could.

The sight, smell, houseflies and mosquitoes could put most people off from nature’s call, specially if that call came in the dark of the night.

The food would have been an added torture if we were not allowed to patronise the stalls in the run-down canteen. That’s where many of the soldiers spent their monthly allowance which I was told was a princely sum by comparison to the salary of a Taiwanese soldier holding a similar rank.

To help you appreciate how much businesses we gave to the hawkers, let’s just say that when it was time for us to leave, they hired lion dancers and fired crackers to give us a rousing send-off.

Most soldiers would never forget the Chinese tea that we had to drink during mealtimes. We were put off by it not because we don’t appreciate Chinese tea.

We were put off because we suspected that they must have plucked huge leaves, and I meant really huge leaves from the wild. They would soak them into big pots of hot waters, and served the we-have-never-ever-seen-it-before concoction to us.

By the way, the name of the leaves was passed down to us as ‘CB’ tea leaves and nobody ever wondered why and questioned it. It tasted like nothing you would want to taste unless you have no other choice like us.

Unfortunately, we did not spend a lot of time at the army camp. We were training and living mostly up in the mountains.

If you compare life in the mountains with that in the army camp, life in the army camp was like living in paradise.

We were training during spring time but up in the mountains, it was like winter all year round. It was very cold, especially for young adults like us who have lived all our lives near the equator.

Our teeth would chatter and our hands would freeze if we were not on the move within a short period of time.

You could understand why we constantly volunteered to be aggressive in pursuing our ‘invisible enemies.’ It was not for any allegiance to the army, bravery, or military victory that made us ‘played balls’ (military jargon for worked very hard).

We needed to be physically active to keep ourselves warm.

There was one memorable occasion when we had to mount an intensive search and destroy operation throughout the day. Just after sunset, we had to launch a major attack, reorganise ourselves, and run throughout the night to reach our base camp shortly after sunrise.

All in all, we took almost 24 hours to complete the exercise. I was carrying a Carl Gustav 84mm recoiless rifle which must have weighed about 21 pounds (9.5 kg) for the most part of the operation.

I had never thought that I could brisk walk and run for almost 24 hours prior to the operation. Neither have I accomplished such a feat since that fateful day.

I remember that pushing ourselves physically created other problems for us. That incident taught me that sometimes in life, we needed to pace ourselves otherwise we might end up curing ‘cancer’ with ‘heart attack.’

For example, there was one exercise that we insisted on running for a protracted period of time. Along the way, we had to quench our thirst and replace the lost fluid in our bodies.

Without  realising it, we were fast depleting our water supply. It finally reached an emergency situation and we were not sure how we could get out of it.

At the eleventh hour, our commander paid us a visit. He motivated us by telling us that we have done a good job.

He then asked, “So, what can I do for all of you?”

Almost in unison, all of us screamed, “Water!” I had never appreciated water as much as I did until that day and it taught me the importance of protecting and conserving it.

I also learned the importance of developing foresight and planning for any project. As part of forward-thinking, I also need to have an effective budget for my resources and to prepare for contingency measures.

One evening, we took up position, dug in, and was defending a particular location. Then, it rained.

When it rained up in the mountains, it literally poured because puddles of water would be trapped on the cusps that formed part of the canopy of trees. Then they would be unleashed with, I suspect, vengeance on us for disturbing their peaceful existence and for littering, including, pardon my French, shitting all over the jungle.

The winds that night were acting like as if they were part of a horror script. They blew right through our drenched bodies and into our freezing bones.

Even though I had heavy duty long johns and winter clothing on my body, I had never shivered so much in my life. My teeth were chattering until it felt like they were trying to knock each other off from the gum.

Fortunately, we have been painstakingly building on our adversity quotient for many months. It kept us alive and well.

That night was one long bitterly-cold experience that I would never forget for the rest of my life.

As part of the operation, every one of us had to assume a key position for an exercise. The purpose was to evaluate our command of military warfare and to, I suppose grade us for future deployment purposes.

At the same time, through the exercise,  our officers would choose the two best cadets amongst us. We called them the ‘Sword of Honour’ winners.

I suspect that my officer-in-command, platoon commander, and section commander were rooting for me to win. I had been the top cadet during the junior term.

More importantly, I had demonstrated leadership qualities through many other activities. I was the managing editor of the school magazine and had also been ‘volunteered’ by higher command to organise other activities.

I was very helpful to my platoon mates even though  the pressures of the course had a tendency to breed an every-man-for-himself attitude. I was well liked by my superiors and peers and was always prepared to run an extra mile for them.

While most of the cadets were assigned to carry out one key appointment, I was given at least two chances to compete for the coveted Sword. In the end, I did not perform well enough to be given the honour.

It was not the first and neither would it be the last time that I did not win an award. I have realised that winning is important but so is losing.

In fact, I can lose in a winning way by leveraging on it to improve my attitude and build a stronger character. It can inspire me to enhance my performance and results.

Every loss can be turned into a win in life.

Even though I was not a winner of the Sword, I was proud of my achievements. I knew the biggest challenge was within me and I had done everything possible to bring out and enjoy the best from myself.

I had done my best to contribute to my mates and to the OCS. If I had to go to war – God forbid – I would be in a good position to do my part for the country.

During the short stint in Taiwan, I have to share as a learning lesson that I had observed moral positions being changed. Some of my peers exhibited, to put it in a nice way, strange attitudes and behaviour throughout the operation.

When the push come to shove, I realised some people would not only compromise their principles in life, they would also come out with ways to justify their action. They could literally talk themselves into doing anything in life.

After the strenuous training, we were given a week of rest and recreation. The Army was kind enough to organise a short tour of some of the scenic areas in the southern parts of Taiwan.

All the soldiers were given a packet of condoms but mine was left behind at the base camp. I knew then that I wanted to do the right thing and therefore, I didn’t need to be careful, if you know what I meant.

When we hit town, we were some of the best looking guys of our age group. The only reason why this was a  fact was because most of our Taiwanese contemporaries had to served their equivalent of National Service away from home and in a remote location.

So in the kingdom of the blind, as they said, the one-eyed – which was us – were the best or the only catch. There were stories of conquests and whirlwind romances – most of them were probably made up – floating amongst the boys.

Me? No chance.

With my looks, I needed to spend time with the visually challenged and they have to be auditory- and mentally-challenged too. I also needed n lots of time for such a miracle to happen. Lol!

In any case, I had a ball of time because that was like my first major holiday overseas. My time was spent being mesmerised by the sight and sound and enjoying many of the wonderful local cuisines.

When I put my heart to anything, I could learn to love and enjoy it. I could find meaning and fulfillment in it.

One of my favourite Taiwanese drinks that I took almost daily was papaya milkshake. It was made by mixing papaya juice with fresh milk.

I loved it so much that I was willing to make the unfortunate sacrifices after consuming it. I had been lactose intolerant throughout my life. Lol!

That trip was also the first time that I was ‘conned’ by a commercial advertisement. It happened shortly after we arrived at the first tourist destination.

I saw a hawker stall with a signage in Chinese, promoting itself as the ‘King of Beef Noodles.’ Even though I wasn’t hungry, I patronised the stall.

After consuming the noodles, I initially came to a conclusion that the standards of food must be very low in Taiwan. Subsequently, I realised that most of the beef noodle hawkers were also self-proclaimed ‘Kings.’ Lol!

I was spending lots of time at book shops. I bought lots of locally-printed books which were going at a fraction of a price by comparison to that in Singapore.

I even bought an A3-sized and about 5 inches-thick (127mm-thick) Random House dictionary and lugged it all the way home. It must have added about 3 inches (about 8 cm) to my biceps. Lol!

Besides books, I brought back – don’t ask me why – blankets and a variety of traditional Chinese medicines. Even though you didn’t ask me, I’m telling you anyway. Lol!

I bought them because most of my friends did it. This is very much in line with the ‘Hello Kitty’ syndrome that Singaporeans are famous for. Lol!

For the uninitiated, the syndrome refers to a uniquely Singaporean crowdsourcing practice. If nobody buys it, it must be no good. If there is a queue, I’m not free for an appointment. I’m queuing too. Lol!

The only unique gift that I bought was a handcrafted guitar. I had my hands full trying to carry it back together with the rest of the purchases.

On the way back, I was wondering if buying the guitar was worth the investment.

Fortunately, I was able to use the guitar to serenade the most beautiful girl in the world. It was at a relatively secluded beachfront spot on the western end of Singapore.

She fell log, stock and barrel for this ‘King of Romance’ and was ‘conned’ into marrying me. Lol!

The guitar was worth it after all.

Obviously, the guitar was hung up after I ‘closed’ the marriage order. If my wife wanted to hear me sing the same old romantic ballads, she had to wait for me to go to the toilet and hear me sing to myself. Lol!

Now you know why my dog is almost deaf. Lol!

It was probably during that Taiwan trip that I first caught the traveller’s bug. Since that memorable trip more than 44 years ago, I have visited many other countries all over the world.

I was happy to visit Taiwan again.

The army training in Taiwan taught me that life is not a short distance sprint but a long distance race.

We need to have passion and perseverance to achieve both short and long term visions and finish the race. Through commitment and constant disciplining of ourselves, we need to develop the stamina to stay the course and up the game.

It is a race to bring out the best from ourselves and to live out our Creator’s blueprint for our life. How others run the race matters only it helps us to enjoy the race and run it in a better way.

Throughout the race, we need to learn how to enhance our capacity and ability to overcome challenges. We need to develop tenacity and agility to go and grow through changes, adversities and failures.

We need perseverance to help us attain excellence in our pursuits and achieve major accomplishments in life.

Perseverance is a set of skills that is
vital for achieving sustainable success.

Thank you Taiwan for the powerful lesson in life.


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

Visit my Inspiration blog at http://liewinspiration.wordpress.com/

For my opinions on social affairs, please visit my Transformation blog at http://hsrpatrickliew.wordpress.com/

Please visit my website, www.patrickliew.net

Please read my reflections and continue to teach me.

Life is FUNtastic!


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